Column | Malkeet KaurPublished on July 19, 2018
The Asian Challenge at Carnoustie
Malaysia’s Gavin Green will feature in an elite field alongside India’s Shubhankar Sharma and Anirban Lahiri, as well as Thailand’s Danthai Boonma, Jazz Janewattananond and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, highest-ranked Asian Tour player in 30th position on the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) at this week’s Open Championship at Carnoustie starting today.
Green, the reigning Asian Tour Order of Merit champion is making his Major debut and is the sole Malaysian in the field. Green is the third and youngest Malaysian to qualify for the world’s oldest Major. The other two players were Iain Steel (1996) and Danny Chia (2005, 2008 and 2010). The 24-year-old sealed his place by winning the Merit title last year.
“I’m excited, of course! You can feel the buzz in the air and I’m just going to go out there, try to enjoy myself and do the best that I can. I’m just trying to stay a little grounded and not get too excited.
“I have my entire support team here with me including my swing coach, my mental coach and my physio. My dad will be on the bag for me and that’s good as we’ve been working together pretty well the past few events,” said Green.
After notching four top-10 results, which included three runner-up finishes, Green broke through at the Mercuries Taiwan Masters before going on to lift the 2017 Order of Merit crown, thanks to a season’s haul of US$582,463.
“It’s very humbling to be able to represent Malaysia in a Major like The Open. I am very happy to have the opportunity to do so and I hope that I can continue to make the country proud.
“Whenever I see the Malaysian flag flying in the tournaments that I play in, I will feel very privileged to be able to represent the country,” added the young Malaysian.
Coming off a tied-19th place finish at the Scottish Open last week, Green is relishing the challenge of playing in his first Major championship. He will have his father, Gary, on his bag and his mother, brother and grandmother supporting him from outside the ropes when he vies for top honours this week.
“Walking up the 18th and seeing the famous leaderboards is pretty special! We stood on the 18th green a bit and just took in the peaceful atmosphere and I could just imagine how fantastic it would be when the stands are full of spectators!
“The course’s impressive! When the wind blows, it will be very challenging. Playing in Europe has definitely been an eye-opener. You learn to appreciate the game so much more as you learn to handle the different courses. I am definitely practising harder and improving on the variety of shots I have in the bag,” Green said.
Thai star Kiradech Aphibarnrat will be looking to produce his best outing at The Open when he tees off for his fifth appearance in the world’s oldest Major Championship today.
Kiradech, Asia’s number one in 2013, has never made the halfway cut in his last four appearances at The Open, which is also the only Major championship that he has yet to make it to the weekend rounds.
Placed 30th on the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR), Kiradech hopes to set the record straight when he plays alongside World number three Justin Rose and defending champion Jordan Spieth in the opening round.
“I will try and play my best this week. If I can put up a good showing, it will be a perfect birthday gift for myself,” said Kiradech, who turns 29 on Monday. “I am playing with Rose and Spieth tomorrow. I want to make the Asians feel proud by playing well alongside them.”
The big-hitting Kiradech has enjoyed a superb season so far, claiming his third Asian Tour title and fourth European Tour victory at the ISPS HANDA World Super 6 Perth in February and taking home his third Asian Development Tour (ADT) victory in Brunei the following month.
Kiradech also came in tied-fifth at both the WGC-Mexico Championship and the WGC – Dell Technologies Match Play in March. In his last Major appearance at the US Open in June, Kiradech enjoyed a 15th place finish, which matched his best ever result in a Major championship.
“I am looking forward to this week. I will just stay focused and try to keep the ball in play. Carnoustie is one of the toughest courses for The Open. I have to make sure I missed at the right spots to give myself opportunities to get up and down and avoid the bunkers out there,” he said.
Kiradech will spearhead the Thai challenge alongside debutants Jazz Janewattananond and Danthai Boonma.
Danthai, a one-time Asian Tour winner, is hoping to make it a week to remember when he tees off for his first Major championship this week.
“I am enjoying the experience so far. This is my first time in Scotland and also my first time playing on a links course. The course’s pretty intimidating with the strong winds and firm greens but I will focus on playing shot by shot and stick to my strategy,” said the 22-year-old Danthai.
Danthai, a double-gold medalist at the 2012 South East Asia (SEA) Games, earned his Asian Tour breakthrough at The World Golf Classic Championship in Singapore three years ago. He has also notched back-to-back top-10 finishes on the Asian Tour, two weeks prior to his Major debut.
“I’m very excited to play in my first Major this week. My parents are here in Scotland for the first time and they are enjoying themselves too. A lot of superstars are here. I would love to see Tiger Woods, for sure.
“I played my practice round with some top players like Louis Oosthuizen and Gary Woodland yesterday and it was a great experience. I learned a lot from them. I am not thinking much about the results. I just want to enjoy myself this week,” Danthai added.
His fellow compatriot Jazz Janewattananond hopes to cap a memorable return to Carnoustie by putting up a good showing in his debut appearance.
“It’s great to be back in Carnoustie. My dad brought me here to watch Tiger Woods play The Open in 2007. We were amongst the spectators here when Padraig Harrington defeated Sergio Garcia to win that year.
“My dad plays an important role in my career. He was the one who brought me into the game when I was young. It’s great to be back here with him and to have him watch me play in my first ever Major championship,” said Jazz, a two-time Asian Tour winner.
Three weeks prior to his Major debut, Jazz clinched a sensational second victory at the Queen’s Cup on home soil where he triumphed by four shots after firing five straight birdies from the 10th for a closing 67.
The talented Thai went on to claim a joint runner-up finish at the Sarawak Championship in Malaysia the following week, thanks to a superb final round of a 64.
“After Sarawak, I took a few days off before coming here to practise. The weather was still pretty warm the last few days but it is getting colder now. The golf course is looking good. It’s amazing to be able to play in such a big event. The course set-up is great.
“The greens are firm and fast. It’s going to play tough. It’s been very overwhelming for me so far, playing in the first Major in my career this week. There are grandstands everywhere. I’m nervous yet excited at the same time,” Jazz added.
India’s rising star Shubhankar Sharma will realise a long-time dream when he makes his debut appearance today.
The 21-year-old Sharma clinched a sensational breakthrough on the Asian Tour by winning the Joburg Open last December to earn a coveted spot for the year’s third Major championship.
“Playing in The Open has been my ‘only’ dream, at one point of time, when I started playing golf. I have watched all the past editions on television and I would keep replaying the videos until I feel as if I have been played in The Open before,” said Sharma.
After his maiden win in South Africa, the young Indian went on to secure a second Asian Tour title at the lucrative Maybank Championship in Malaysia two months later.
He continued to take the golfing world by storm when he claimed a top-10 finish in his World Golf Championships debut in Mexico in March. That finish earned him an invitation to The Masters where he made his Major debut.
Sharma, who leads the Asian Tour Habitat for Humanity standings with a current haul of US$589,575, added another feather to his cap by earning his second Major appearance at the US Open after making the mark in the Qualifier.
“Playing in the Masters has been an out-of-the-world experience and the circumstances under which I got there, getting a sponsors’ invite, made it all the more beautiful. My whole family and friends were there with me too. Qualifying for the US Open was also great, as I earned that by getting through the qualifier.
“Both these experiences have been unique and enriching. I am extremely lucky that I am getting all these opportunities early in life,” added Sharma, the world’s highest-ranked Indian in 87th place on the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR).
Sharma will be flying the Indian flag alongside 2015 Asian Tour Order of Merit champion Anirban Lahiri. Lahiri believes the feel-good factor will stand in his favour when he makes his sixth attempt at The Open today.
The 31-year-old Lahiri hopes to bank on his familiarity with the prestigious tournament as he bids for the Claret Jug at the year’s third Major championship.
“There is a feeling of familiarity at The Open. This is the Major championship which I have played the most number of times. I was telling my caddy that I even recognised one of the security guards here. I don’t feel out of place at The Open. Everything is set up like it has always been so it feels really nice to be back,” said Lahiri.
“For me, the more important thing is to play well. I want to do better than what I have done before. I know I can do that because I have contended in Majors in the past. I am getting a lot of confidence from the golf I am playing right now.
“It is not the typical Open, which used to be wet and cold so that makes me more comfortable. The course also reminds me a bit of the Delhi Golf Club, where one can keep hitting two-Irons and keep the ball in play,” Lahiri added.
Six Asian players in the Open field says a lot for how far Asian players have progressed in the game especially where the Majors are concerned. Won’t it be great if one of them actually came through on the fourth day with the Claret Jug in hand! It will certainly take the golfing world by storm. Asia needs for that to happen for it to get the world’s attention and to grow the game in the region.
The other Asian Tour members in The Open field this week include England’s Matt Wallace, Korea’s Sanghyun Park and Minchel Choi, South African Shaun Norris as well as Japan’s Yuta Ikeda, Masahiro Kawamura, Kodai Ichihara, Masanori Kobayashi and Hideto Tanihara.
Column | Malkeet KaurPublished on March 7, 2018
The Young Golfing Master of India
The rise of India’s Shubhankar Sharma in the golfing ranks has been nothing short of remarkable. So far, it’s been an amazing journey for the 21-year-old professional who never in his wildest imagination dreamt at the beginning of 2018, that he would be invited to one of the world’s biggest golfing stage – The Masters Tournament.
At 16, Sharma, who was already the number one junior in his country, opted to join the paid ranks, against advice from his peers. Word is, his father Retired Col Mohan Sharma sat him down one day and proceeded to plan the teenager’s professional golfing career. And aside from a few hiccups here and there, Sharma’s rise up the ranks of professional golf has been nothing short of spectacular.
I remember watching him at the 2017 Myanmar Open and was told then that he was an up and coming player to watch in the next few years. Ironically, it has taken only a few short months for Sharma to shed his up and coming tag to arrive in a big way.
Like all young Asian professionals, Sharma began his professional career on the Asian Development Tour (ADT) after failing in his first attempt at obtaining the Asian Tour card in 2014. Despite that, in that year itself, he claimed his first top-five finish on the Asian Tour on home soil at the Panasonic Open India.
Through his country exemption category, Sharma played in several Tour events in 2015 before earning his Asian Tour card in his second attempt at the Qualifying School in 2016.
No one had a clue of what was to come in 2018 after Sharma finished the 2017 season 51st on the Asian Tour moneylist, but looking at his record, one would have had a slight inkling as he had clinched several top-10 finishes in 2017 before winning the Joburg Open in South Africa in December. He was the only Indian in the field, and the win earned him a coveted spot at The Open in July. It was a great moment for the youngster, who was ecstatic at the idea of making his major debut at The Open at Carnoustie. But of course, now he will be making that dream debut at The Masters instead.
“This win is great because it opens so many doors for me. I’m also playing in The Open, so I’m excited about that. More and more players are coming out of Asia and India. You’ve had players like Jeev Milkha Singh, Arjun Atwal, Jyoti Randhawa and Anirban Lahiri. Just seeing them do well inspire us,” Sharma said after the Joburg Open.
In February, at the Maybank Championship in Saujana, he claimed his second Asian Tour and European Tour victory, closing with a 10-under 62 to seal the deal at the Saujana Golf & Country Club, taking home his career biggest prize purse yet of US$500,000 to move at the top of the Asian Tour’s Habitat for Humanity Standings and lead the race to Dubai on the European Tour.
He added, “The last two months have changed my life. I’ve always dreamt of winning, and now I’m a two-time winner on the Asian Tour and European Tour,” said Sharma, who rose to a career-high 72nd place on the latest Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR).”
The two wins on both the Tours also earned him a debut to the WGC-Mexico Championship, where Sharma ranked at No.75 in the world was the youngest player at 21. In an elite field of top-ranked players and major champions, Sharma produced a gutsy performance that saw him lead by two shots in the second and third rounds.
The youngster showed maturity beyond his age to finish joint ninth at the event, earning US$179,667 for his efforts. It also moved him to a career-high 66th place on the Official World Golf Ranking, making the highest ranked Indian player in the world.
Not surprising, Sharma became an overnight sensation in his homeland. Social media went a little crazy detailing Sharma’s golfing exploits. Everyone had something to say about his performances in Mexico and, perhaps a little too much hope was placed on his young shoulders.
Fellow Indian professionals also hailed his performances in Mexico, and though many were disappointed that Mickelson had stolen the thunder by winning thus ending his own winless drought, everyone was appeased and elated when Sharma was rewarded with an invite from Fred Ridley, the Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament.
I am sure, in the years to come, we will be hearing more of this young man’s exploits on the golf course. There used to be a time when we applauded the uniquely talented players from the United States, Europe or even Japan. Today, the tides are changing; more and more Asian players are stepping into the limelight and are able to hold their own on in elite fields. Perhaps the time will come when an Asian player is not mistaken for media personnel, instead be recognised as a professional golfer of equal standing.